Virginia Department of Health weighs in on risk of COVID-19 at school

Norfolk School.jpg
Posted at 4:36 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 17:24:28-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. — Health experts say masks, vaccines and testing are the key to a safe and successful school year.

“Are schools contributing to transmission? Probably, a little bit,” says Deputy Director of the Office of Epidemiology at Virginia Department of Health Dr. Laurie Forlano. “The degree to which they are impacting the overall community transmission, I think it's difficult to tease out right now.”

Some local school districts are already experiencing major interruptions as the new school year gets underway.

As of Monday, the York County School Division reports 94 new positive cases since in the first two weeks of the school year.

Meanwhile, nearly 350 students are in quarantine, with 35 positive cases this week in Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools. The school district says it had cases where individual classes and groups of students are quarantining and have returned to remote learning since school started August 30.

“We look at an individual outbreak and individual setting and public health can advise as to whether or not a temporary closure — whether it's a classroom, or a grade or school — would help decrease transmission,” explained Dr. Forlano.

VDH says it’s up to schools to look at how outbreaks, absenteeism and staffing is affecting the schools to make an informed decision on whether closing is necessary.

First Lady Pamela Northam visited Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk Monday afternoon and tells News 3 schools are not only safe, but where students need to be.

“We know when the data is clear that in-person learning is the best way for our students to learn both academically, socially, emotionally - even health-wise - we know this is a great place for them to be and they've gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure that our children are safe,” said Northam.

Related: Hampton Roads, northeastern North Carolina school districts create hubs for COVID-19 information as school year gets underway

Mrs. Northam says she applaud school districts that have already mandated vaccinations for teachers and says the governor is looking closely at the possibility of statewide vaccination mandate for teachers.

VDH says schools should expect COVID-19 will interrupt the school year, but hopefully not for long.

Click here for more Safely at School coverage.